The Best Bits from Blogs and Broadsheets


As I seem to do about once a month, I’ve collected some tidbits from weblogs and news sources that I found of interest.

MANY OF the world’s most difficult environmental challenges can be addressed and solved by cities. This may come as a surprise to those who think of environmental issues largely in the context of wild places and open spaces. Cities, often congested, dense, and enormous consumers of resources, would not be the place one might first turn for environmental solutions. But in fact, cities are inherently the “greenest” of all places. They are much more efficient in their use of energy, water, and land than suburbs. They provide transportation services in a remarkably equitable and democratic fashion. They may be the best of all places for seniors to grow old. Development in cities helps to save natural areas and open space by relieving growth pressures on the countryside. And cities will, without question, be the pivotal players in fashioning solutions to the growing problem of climate change.

  • Jerry Lanson writes in the Christian Science Monitor about French hospitality. The French individuals I’ve met have been kind, appreciative and funny so the anti-French bigotry common in the US is especially upsetting to me:

Next to nothing in our experience in France jibes with the stereotype of vaguely amusing, largely annoying, mirror-absorbed Frenchmen. OK, we had to deal once with a surly cab driver who tried to jack up the price of a ride to our apartment. But I’ve faced worse in Boston. Other than that, Kathy and I have encountered no arrogance, no fussiness, no snobbery.

Instead, everywhere we turn, people greet us with a smile and a “Bonjour, monsieur et madame.” Goodbyes are more elaborate – “Merci beaucoup; au revoir,” and then, “bonne journée” or “bon weekend.” People wait patiently while we mangle their language. Often, in a most cordial way, they’ll then correct our mistakes in French. It’s the best way to learn.

The true majority in this country are those, from whatever background, who subscribe to a set of core values – among them freedom of expression, conscience, movement, tolerance of diversity but not of hatred, respect for the rights of others, and responsibility for one’s actions. If most people didn’t subscribe to such principles, then life here would be simply intolerable.

Of course, anybody who has to face discrimination on a daily basis will tell you these much trumpeted values are, in reality, nothing more than aspirations. The challenge, then, is to manifest these ideals in a practical way that is accessible to all.

The Gravity Probe B project was conceived in the late 1950s but suffered decades of delays while other scientists ran tests corroborating Einstein’s theory. It was Everitt’s determination that stopped it being cancelled. The joint mission between Nasa and Stanford University uses four of the most perfect spheres – ultra precise gyroscopes – to detect minute distortions in the fabric of the universe. Everitt’s aim was to prove to the highest precision yet if Einstein was correct in the way he described gravity.

  • Drake Bennet writes about the playground renaissance in the Boston Globe. “When I was a boy we climbed on monkey bars 10 feet off the ground with only a thin strip of rubber between us and the concrete, and I turned out just fine”:

According to psychologists and specialists in early childhood education, to be valuable, play needs to be creative, but there also has to be an element of danger. “Children need vertiginous experiences,” says Mary Rivkin, a professor of education at the University of Maryland. “They need fast and slow and that high feeling you get when you run down a hill. They need to have tippy things.”

If there’s no challenge, no pain of failure, she argues, there’s no learning — and less enjoyment. Indeed, according to Hart, one problem with trying to child-proof playgrounds is that children, trying to make the safer playground equipment interesting, come up with unforeseen and often more dangerous ways of using it.

  • Unlike every blog and news source I read, I do not have a touching, personal tribute to Kurt Vonnegut. Sad to say, I’ve only read one Vonnegut novel and at the time of his death last week I was surprised that he was actually still alive to that point. That was Slaughterhouse Five which I struggled through one summer when I was in High School. Despite being a teenage boy — a key Vonnegut demographic — I just didn’t get into it much. Worse yet, when I took my AP English exam over a year later, I was given a list of books to write an essay and the only book on the list I’d read was Slaughterhouse Five! Thus I wrote an essay about a book I barely remembered and hardly understood. I did not do well on the AP exam as you may imagine (but on the other hand I ended up taking a cool Freshman seminar that met the same requirement in English so all things work out in the end). Anyhow, none of this is to say anything bad about Vonnegut, I just wanted to dwell on my own ignorance a bit. I should pick up a Vonnegut book soon, if that doesn’t make me a poseur.

My favorite of the many tributes comes from Ryan Roderick Beiler on the God’s Politics blog: “Kurt Vonnegut, “Christ-worshipping agnostic’.”

  • I also have nothing to say about Don Imus (who I loved to listen to when I was young, but he ceased to be funny about 20 years ago), but I think David Byrne has some of the best insight of read on the issue: There are no rules.
  • Speaking of which, you may have noticed that I rarely have anything to say about the popular junk news stories of the day. Robert McHenry hits the nail on the head in On Current Events on the Britannica Blog. It includes the following piece of wisdom that’s worth remembering:

“A good current event is one that has at least three reasons for appearing in a future history book.”

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